Carlyle, BET founder in partnership

The Carlyle Group has joined forces with Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television.

The Carlyle Group is teaming with Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson to develop co-investment opportunities in private equity.

BET founder Robert L. Johnson has launched a partnership with The Carlyle Group.

Johnson will launch a new private equity group through his holding company, The RLJ Companies, which will identify expansion and buyout investment opportunities. The Carlyle Group will make a seed-stage investment in Johnson’s new firm and also co-invest in the deals sourced by the group.

William Kennard, a managing director at Carlyle, told PEO that the primary impetus for launching the joint venture was to partner with Johnson. He added that the partnership will give the firm access to new networks outside of its current reach and a potential source of proprietary deal flow.

Johnson is best known for launching Black Entertainment Television. He had spent time as a lobbyist in the cable and telecom industry before starting BET in 1980. Once the company was launched it grew rapidly.

BET was profitable within five years of its founding, and the company went public in the early nineties. Just before the turn of the decade, though, Johnson reversed course and regained full control of BET through a taking-private acquisition. In 2001, just a few years later, he turned around and sold the company to Viacom in a roughly $3 billion deal. That vaulted Johnson onto the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in the US.

Johnson, who retired from BET earlier this year, has since launched RLJ Holdings, a private investment outfit with interests in a number of companies, including the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Bobcats.

RLJ Holdings also operates a hotel real estate investment company (RLJ Development) and a hedge fund of funds that was just announced this past November in partnership with Deutsche Bank (RLJ Hedge Fund of Funds). Other investments include stakes in financial services outfit Rollover Systems, gambling concern Caribbean Gaming and Entertainment and jazz recording studio Three Keys Music.

Kennard could not comment on the size of the private equity fund, and hesitated to delve into the strategy, saying that Johnson would be in full control of its design. In the press release, the firm identified that the fund would pursue control deals in the high-end of the middle market, citing the media, financial services and business service sectors as its areas of specialisation.